The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Peter declares the resurrection of Jesus to a crowd amazed at the signs of the Spirit's presence and power.
Psalm 16 (UMH 748).
The United Methodist Hymnal selection, from the former Common Lectionary, includes only verses 5-11. For a musical refrain, use a refrain line from one of the selections from TFWS (listed below) or sing Response 1 with a soloist or several voices singing the psalm to Tone 4 in G minor.
1 Peter 1:3-9.
We have been born anew and granted an imperishable inheritance in the Risen Lord.
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This story is not only about Thomas, but about Jesus Christ. It reminds us, the body of Christ, to go to similar lengths to show the signs of Christ's resurrection to those who doubt so they may come to believe.
Easter is a season, not a one-day event. The Great Fifty Days reach from last week up to and including the Day of Pentecost.
The discipling purpose of Easter Season historically is twofold. The first purpose is doctrinal. Easter Season was (and is) a season to for “mystagog,” teaching the “mysteries of the faith” (core doctrinal matters) to the newly baptized and reminding the rest of these core teachings. Second, it is a time to help the newly baptized, and indeed all the baptized, discern, claim or reclaim their spiritual gifts and their calling to ministry in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. Easter Season culminates with Pentecost, where we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (doctrine) and commission persons into their ministries (ministry).
Every Sunday, and the days between them, has both a doctrinal focus and ministry focus.
While the Second Sunday of Easter Season is often thought of as a “Low Sunday,” you and your planning team should plan to position it as a “Launch Sunday” for the core doctrinal and ministry development work of Easter Season that lies ahead.
April 20-June 8: Easter Season
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
May 1 National Day of Prayer (USA)
May 4 Native American Ministries Sunday (Native American worship resources)
May 5-11 Christian Family Week
May 11 Festival of the Christian Home/Mother's Day (USA)
May 17-18 Change the World Weekend
May 18 Heritage Sunday (GBOD resources)
May 24 Aldersgate Day
May 26 Memorial Day (USA)
May 29 Ascension of the Lord
June 8 Pentecost
June 15 Trinity Sunday, Father's Day and Peace with Justice Sunday (GBOD Resources)
June 19 Juneteenth
July 4 Independence Day (USA)
Back to School Resources
August 6, 8 Hiroshima/Nagasaki Memorial
September 1 Labor Day (USA) (August 31, Labor Sunday)
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Atmospherics -- Doctrinal Focus: The Mind-Blowing Mystery of Resurrection
Last week, we celebrated the news of the Resurrection.
This week, we hear the proclamation of the reality and mystery of the Resurrection by early Christians at the time (the confession of Thomas), and throughout the first (Acts and I Peter) and possibly into the second century (I Peter and John’s gospel).
Last week, we were hearing and saying together in worship, perhaps repeatedly, “Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed!”
This week, we are hearing and called to join in Thomas’s pronouncement, “The risen Christ is Lord.”
Last week, we reveled.
This week, we reflect on the mystery and its implications for our lives and all creation.
Last week, we heard from those who saw Jesus risen on that first Easter Day.
This week, we hear of those who did not see, at least initially (such as Thomas), and yet, as I Peter puts it, “believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (I Peter 1:8, NRSV).
This week, we join with the few who did see with their own eyes, such as Peter and those who joined him in preaching on the first Day of Pentecost following the Resurrection and the many more who did not, including the vast majority of the crowd Peter addressed that day.
And we begin by asking, where do we find ourselves today in relationship to the proclamation, “The risen Christ is Lord and God?”
Some of us may be like those pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem and were simply overwhelmed and perhaps more than a bit bewildered by what they saw and heard at the feast of Pentecost that year. They came expecting to celebrate the giving of the Law and the ingathering of the wheat harvest in the temple. But before they ever got to the temple, they encountered over 100 persons, women and men, older and younger, mostly Galileans, scattered in their midst and preaching in the languages of pilgrims near and far, languages most of these Galileans couldn’t possibly know. They came expecting a fairly orderly and joyous processional through the Holy City to the temple. They found instead a fairly raucous hubbub everywhere they turned.
How many folks who worship with you, not counting those you know who are not part of your congregation or any congregation, may simply find themselves a bit overwhelmed and bewildered by the hubbub that happens around Easter? Think about it: there may have been travel, meeting with family members infrequently seen, and special clothing purchased for the occasion. These special efforts may have heightened the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus for some. But for others, they may have distracted them or overwhelmed them. Indeed, the celebration of Resurrection, per se, may have gotten lost in all the shuffle. What indeed does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with all of that? Perhaps more poignantly, what does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with me and my life, now that all that hubbub is over and things are settling back to “normal?”
Both Acts and I Peter invite us to consider the testimony of those who saw or now experience the Risen Christ.
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Our reading from Acts this week with Peter affirming, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses” (Acts 2:32 NRSV). And so all of them were. They had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and their preaching on this day was simply in response to what they had seen as the Spirit gave them ability to proclaim it. Sometimes the assertion of such facts is all that is needed to overcome bewilderment.
I Peter meanwhile points to the experience of the Christians and communities he addresses in this “baptismal sermon” as verification that the risen Christ is indeed among them and will raise them, too. They are aware of being “protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (verse 5), and they rejoice in this awareness (verse 6). They love Christ, believe in him, and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy (verse 8). These behavioral signs all point to the underlying truth of the resurrection of Christ and the salvation they are already receiving (verses 3 and 9). Often, where facts fail to move the overwhelmed or bewildered, such clear displays of feeling or action become lights in the darkness, or sparks to dried kindling. And for those who already believe, the reminder I Peter gives of how their lives already bear witness to the risen Lord in their midst often stirs their hearts to greater devotion.
But what of those in your midst who simply doubt the resurrection of Jesus entirely? The story of Thomas in John 20, which we read every year on this Sunday, shows one way. Thomas’s questions and doubts were legitimate. He was not with the other disciples when Jesus had first shown himself to them alive. On the eighth day (symbolic of new creation, Resurrection, the fullness of God’s kingdom come), Jesus did reveal himself to Thomas. Jesus first showed his wounds. Then he invited Thomas to touch his wounds.
John does not indicate whether Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds. The very next thing after Jesus’ invitation is Thomas’s confession. “My Lord and my God,” the strongest confession of the divinity of Jesus found anywhere in the New Testament.
In Your Planning Team
1. In light of the Scriptures and the commentary above, name where each of you may be with the doctrine (and mystery!) of the resurrection of Jesus at this point in your life. Specifically, do you find yourselves overwhelmed and bewildered (pilgrims to Pentecost)? Assured and rejoicing (the newly baptized and people addressed in I Peter)? Seriously doubting (Thomas)? Or boldly confessing (Thomas and the 100 plus in Acts)?
2. After you’ve named where you are, remind the team that a major purpose of Easter Season is to help those newly baptized and the whole congregation embrace the doctrines you will be addressing each week more fully than they/you may now. Then ask, “Given where you are, what could we do in worship to help you both understand and take the next step in embracing the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?”
3. Use the insights you glean from this conversation to help you determine the music, artwork, and directions for preaching, as well as additional interactions through the coming week, that would be most likely to help the congregation as a whole take their next steps in embracing the mystery of Christ’s resurrection and its implications for their lives.
Ministry Focus: Rejoicing with One Another through Suffering
This may seem an odd ministry focus for the Second Sunday in Easter, but it is exactly where the Epistle and the Gospel lead us today.
I Peter notes the “various trials” (verse 6) the newly baptized and other Christians he addresses are having to undergo. He then compares these trials to a “testing by fire” (verse 7) that helps separate gold from other minerals. The temperatures required to purify gold vary from 1000 to over 1900 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the method used. We do not metaphorically associate the word “crucible” with a very severe trial for nothing! I Peter, then, is not talking about the normal aches and pains of life, nor even tragedies like disease or natural disasters. He is most likely talking about actual persecution for their faith, which some Christians were undergoing at the time.
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I Peter does not dismiss these persecutions, but embraces them as part of the process by which God was sanctifying them, just as all Christians had already embraced suffering and death in embracing Christ crucified as Lord and putting their whole trust in Christ raised from the dead in their baptisms.
And we see in the midst of their suffering also their love, belief, and rejoicing with indescribable and glorious joy.
When Jesus appears before Thomas in our reading from John’s gospel, he does not try to wow Thomas with signs of glory. The proofs he offers are the wounds in his hands and side.
In Western cultures increasingly seeking to avoid pain or distract ourselves from it, these early Christian messages from I Peter and John’s gospel may seem anti-intuitive, to say the least. What correlates with “indescribable and glorious joy” is going through persecution for the hope of redemption in Christ? What turns doubt into powerful confession is showing wounds?
Yes, and yes. How we approach suffering inflicted upon us determines greatly both the degree of our personal transformation and sanctification and the power of our ministries in Christ’s name.
For us to embrace the doctrine of Resurrection is also to embrace the expectation of suffering for Christ’s name and to allow ourselves to walk toward and rejoice with all who are suffering.
This is why the Wesleys were as insistent as they were that all Methodists should be involved in direct ministry with the poor and suffering, including those in prisons. It was in ministry with such persons that we and they discover Christ most profoundly and find ourselves learning to rejoice with them with indescribable and glorious joy.
In Your Planning Team
This week’s ministry focus is on teaching the newly baptized and the rest of the congregation to embrace suffering, even persecution should it come, rather than avoid or distract ourselves from it.
1. Share how each of you currently approaches suffering in your life. Do you avoid it? Do you distract yourself from it? Do you (unnecessarily) invite it?
2. Share how each of you stays in touch with suffering people (or not). How have you found your spiritual life deepened and your ministry empowered when you have been with suffering people?
3. Based on the answers to these questions in your team, what kinds of encouragement, communication or other interventions would be most helpful either in worship today or during the coming week to help more of your congregation move away from avoiding or distracting themselves from suffering and move toward focusing more time and energy with suffering people?
Embodying the Word: Eastertide Creeds and Confessions of Faith
The use of creeds and other affirmations of faith in worship had lost some popularity in some circles during the “seeker sensitive” movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But in the English-speaking world, the use of creeds has seen a resurgence across the spectrum from traditional to contemporary to emergent worshiping communities. More and more Christians are seeing the value of boldly proclaiming their faith during worship using words Christians have shared for decades or centuries. During this past decade, there has also been an explosion in the writing and use of new confessions of faith—whether sung or spoken.
If your congregation has fallen away from using creeds in worship or simply has never adopted the practice, the Easter Season is a good time to reclaim or start. Week after week, the Scriptures boldly declare the resurrection of Jesus. Why shouldn’t the body of Christ respond with an equally bold declaration?
The key is to declare the creeds boldly. No mere reading. No muttering. The creeds and confessions of faith are poetic, prophetic acclamations for the whole worshiping community to proclaim aloud.
When do you use the creed? Our basic service order (Word and Table I, UMH 7) indicates they are a response to the word read and proclaimed. In some earlier forms of Methodist Sunday worship, built more on Morning Prayer than a Lord’s Day Order, or modeled more on Reformed than Anglican models, the confession of faith happens at the beginning of worship, a way for the congregation to begin worship by idenitifying who and whose we are. Here in Easter Season, either placement can work, but after the word is read and proclaimed may make more sense.
Recommended Confession for the Second Sunday of Easter: Affirmation from I Corinthians 15 and Colossians 1, UMH 888
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Prayer for Illumination (based on John 20:31)
Risen Lord, stand among us and cause us to hear what is written in the Scriptures so that we come to believe that you are the Son of God; and that believing, we may have life in your name. Amen.
Concerns and Prayers
BOW 66-67 (note the direct use of language from the 1 Peter reading in the prayer)
Prayer of Thanksgiving if Holy Communion is not celebrated
BOW 553 or 556
Dismissal with Blessing
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We've all heard the expression "waiting for the other shoe to drop." What this expression refers to, of course, is the experience of someone on the ground floor listening to the person above undress and get ready for bed. After the sound of one shoe hitting the floor is heard, the sound of the other shoe is bound to follow.
What we sometimes fail to properly understand is that the Easter story is a two-shoe matter. The resurrection of Jesus is the first shoe. The second shoe is the resurrection of the disciples' faith. The thing I want to emphasize is that neither of these two shoes—neither the resurrection of Jesus, nor the disciples' resurrection of faith—were just ideas or proposals. Rather, both of these events were matters of personal experience.
In the gospel passage for this Second Sunday in Eastertide, John goes to great pains to convince his audience that the disciples did not just think up the possibility of Jesus rising from the dead in their minds; rather, says John, Jesus appeared, suddenly and unexpectedly.
But that was just the first shoe.
The second shoe was what Jesus did. He breathed on them and gave them a new, Holy Spirit to replace their old dead spirits, the old spirits that had been based on fear and insecurity—the old spirits that had led them to desert Jesus and save their own hides, and to lock the doors against the Jewish authorities and huddle together late Easter Day.
Nobody knew better than the disciples how unacceptable their behavior was. The aftermath of Jesus' trial and crucifixion had not only left him dead, but it had left their faith dead as well; not their faith in Jesus, but their faith in themselves.
But when God resurrected Christ and sent him back, he sent him to save these failed followers, these who had thought they could change and put away their old mistakes, and the sins of the past, but who had found the bitter truth that, for all their profession of faith, they were not really changed people, but the same old self-centered sinners they had been before Jesus had ever walked into their lives.
What Christ did when he came back from the dead was to change this bitter truth.
He took away the disciples' failure. He blotted out their mistakes. He transformed their grief to joy. He picked them up from the ground where they were wallowing in self-pity and set them firmly back on the path to a new life. He took their thoughts off their own troubles. He gave them peace of mind. Where there had been self-doubt, he put a new sense of security. Where there had been fear, he put love. Where there had been death, he breathed new life.
What happened to those original disciples happens to each one of us. At some point in our lives, we first decide to become followers of Jesus. We decide to give up our old selfish and miserable lives. We decide to become changed men and women. But inevitably, we find ourselves not always able to follow through on this. We find our old habits, our old tendencies, our old ways of thinking and doing reappearing in our lives. The devils of our past return to haunt us. Our same old sins reappear in our lives. We revert to type.
But Easter shows us that that isn't the end of the story. God isn't done with us. God doesn't just shrug us off. God sends Christ back into our lives to raise us up again from where we have fallen.
Here we consider as an example of this, Thomas. Thomas was the one who had encouraged the disciples to go with Jesus into Judea even if it meant death, and he was the one who later confessed to Jesus that he didn't know where Jesus was going and so he found it difficult to follow him.
We don't know much else about Thomas, except that all four gospels list him as one of the twelve disciples, and that from what evidence we do have of him, he had a lot of faith in Jesus and chose to follow him, but he had trouble believing in things that he could not see for himself or understand for himself. He wanted concrete evidence. He wanted proof.
Don't you imagine the other disciples must have felt the same way? Don’t you imagine that it wasn’t just Thomas, but all of them, who must have been filled with self-doubt? Feeling unworthy? Feeling like frauds, hypocrites, and traitors?
But even in the midst of all of that, Christ came to them and breathed God's Holy Spirit into them and gave them new life.
By loving them even when they had failed, fallen, and become fearful, Christ helped them take their focus from their own failures and filled them instead with the peace of being forgiven.
And the same thing happens to each one of us. This is no theory. This is an actual experience. People can change, even after they have failed to change. And people can have a spirit that is holy, even after they have sunk back into the same old rotten spirit that used to rule their lives.
How does that happen? It happens when someone offers us forgiveness when we have sinned. It happens when someone loves us even though we feel unworthy of anyone’s love. It happens when the people of God love one another as Christ has loved them.
In Christ, in the fellowship of Christ, in our membership in the body of Christ, God makes us do for one another what we are unable to do for ourselves. That is why the church is important. That is why we need the church and the church needs us.
The story of Thomas demonstrates for all of us that we can believe in Christ, not just have faith in him, but really believe in him, without having seen him ourselves or having proof of his existence. All we really need is the love of our brothers and sisters in faith. All we need is the testimony of others who believe. All we need is the testimony offered through the witness of the members of his living body: the church.
The reappearance of Christ at Easter is not something that happened just a long time ago.
Easter is a continuing story.
God still comes to us in Christ.
God still raises us from death to life.
God still transforms us. God still gives us new hope.
God still brings peace to our troubled lives.
God still fills our old tired hearts with joy.
God does not leave us alone in this world without Christ, but reappears in our lives again and again, and breathes the breath of life into us through God's holy spirit.
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In our other two texts for this day, we have Peter giving his testimony to how Christ was raised from the dead and came to him, raising him from death to new life also. Peter, who denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter, who must have felt more deeply than anyone the weight of his own failure.
What did God do with Peter, this broken, ashamed, deeply doubting man? God raised him up to be the first witness, the first preacher, the first one to tell others the good news of Jesus Christ! God then led Peter and Paul to take the message beyond the chosen people and share it with the Gentiles. Tradition tells us that God then took Peter on to found the church in Rome, and lead as its first bishop.
And whether or not the first letter attributed to Peter was from his own hand, it is surely representative of Peter’s own, personal experience of Christ having given him a new birth into living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
This hope was so strong and so transformational that he couldn’t help but want to tell others about it. His testimony gives hope as he writes that though they may have to suffer difficulties, various trials in this life, and even be tested by fire from time to time, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Christ can persevere. And even though they may not have seen Jesus in the flesh, they can nonetheless have faith in his saving power because they, too, have personally experienced the grace and hope that has been breathed into them by that very same Spirit.
How can we encourage the members of our congregations during this holy season of Eastertide to be witnesses to their faith?
Can we invite some folks to give their testimony to the transforming power of Christ in the lives of those we serve?
Can we give our own testimony as to how the Holy Spirit has breathed new life into us?
Preaching Notes are written by the Rev. Dawn Chesser, email@example.com
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